WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Ferrari drivers Daniel Serra and Toni Vilander scored the overall Blancpain GT World Challenge America victory Saturday at Watkins Glen Int’l.
The 51-lap, 90-minute race presented by CrowdStrike also featured wins in the Pro/Am category by Acura drivers Mike Hedlund and Dane Cameron, and in the Am category with Ferrari drivers Mark Issa and Martin Fuentes.
Polesitter Alvaro Parente, in the K-PAX Racing No. 9 Bentley Continental GT3 assumed the lead through turn one ahead of Serra, behind the wheel of the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3. Brazilian Rodrigo Baptista, who started third, slotted in behind Serra. American Patrick Long went from sixth to fourth on the opening lap.
Hedlund, who started eighth overall and second in Pro/Am, moved into the Pro/Am lead around Wright Motorsports driver American Anthony Imperato in the No. 91 Porsche 911 GT3 R, while American Christopher Gagnazzi slotted into 10th overall and first in the Am category.
Through lap 10 the leaders continued to hold their positions with Parente building a four car length lead over Serra. On lap 11, Am leader Cagnazzi spun through turn nine and before he could gather up his No. 19 machine and return to the track Issa, in the No. 7 Squadra Corse Ferrari 488 GT3, moved into the lead in class.
Through laps 15 to 18, Parente gradually increased his lead over Serra to 3.1 seconds before the pit window opened with just over 48 minutes remaining in the contest. Drama ensued as the leaders entered pit road for the driver changeover. Parente was slowed coming into the pits by another competitor allowing Serra to remove the gap gained on the track. The R. Ferri team was then able to execute a seamless pit stop and Vilander, who took over from Serra, exited the pits ahead of Andy Soucek who assumed the reins from Parente.
With the pit window closed and driver changes completed, Vilander held his lead over Soucek, with Soulet, who took over for Baptista, in third and Scott Hargrove, who took over for Long, in fourth. In Pro/Am, Cameron, who took over for Hedlund, slotted into seventh overall and first in the Pro/Am class, while Fuentes assumed the reins from Issa in 10th overall and first in Am.
The leaders all held their positions to the checkered – Vilander won by 2.8 seconds over Soucek. In Pro/Am, Cameron won over Olsen, who had taken over for Imperato, while Fuentes won over Japan’s Takuya Shirasaka.
“It’s my first time here (at Watkins Glen) so my race went amazing,” said Issa. “I always say to win you have to be present so at the end of the day while I lost a little (time through) the bus stop (section of the track) I just thought about keeping consistent laps and remaining focused.”
“Starting in second wasn’t optimal, but it was a solid qualifying and I know we had a solid race pace after running the car yesterday,” said Hedlund. “My main goal was to start clean and I didn’t want to get us in trouble early, so I took the outside and was able to get around (Imperato) to take the lead. The RealTime guys did a perfect job on the pit stop and we had a clean driver change plus the lead.”
“This is my first time in this championship and it’s probably the only race this year (for me) as Miguel (Molina) is coming back to race with Toni so I’m happy that I could help him win this race and extend the championship lead,” said Serra. “The team did an amazing job on the pit stop, we were able to overtake Parente, we were a bit lucky with some traffic. The team did an amazing job and I feel good to come here and help.”